Michael Fassbender: The shame of Hollywood

ridley scott cormac mccarthy

What is it with Michael Fassbender? Until a few years ago most of us had never heard of him. Now he seems to be in practically everything. Let’s get this straight, this post isn’t a rant in his general direction, I think he’s a phenomenal actor. It’s just we’re all liable to suffer Fassbender burnout if his output of films continues at the current rate.

michael fassbender in fish tankCast your minds back to 2008, his breakout came playing Bobby Sands in Steve Mcqueen’s, Hunger. This put him on the map. In 2009 he appeared in Fish Tank, a gritty drama set in an English council estate, highly recommended.

He then pretty much stole the show as Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds. Whilst Tarantino does write damn good dialogue and create a seriously tense, yet darkly comic scene – it’s Fassbender that makes this truly special. Watch the flicker of his eyes when he knows his time is up, then switching from German to the King’s English. Classic stuff.

Then in 2010 he appeared in Jonah Hex and Centurion, neither particularly memorable, critically or commercially. However, this didn’t stop the mighty Fassbender. The following year he really began to get into his stride, playing lead roles in Jane Eyre, X Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame, Haywire and Prometheus.

Let’s just take a step back for a second. All these films in 2011 were both critical and commercial successes. He’s not exactly limited himself in the type of roles he plays either: a Lord in a period drama, a superhero who can manipulate metal with his mind, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, a sex addicted ad executive, an MI6 agent who gets beaten to hell by a real life mixed martial artist, and an android.

fassbender shameHe’s clearly a highly accomplished, versatile and chameleonic actor, who can convince in a number of roles. Indeed, Director Steve McQueen compared him to Marlon Brando in an interview. High praise, yet justified.

I think he must have realised this avalanche had to stop at some point. IMDb shows us he hasn’t had any films out this year, but has some in the pipeline. He could do with a break as far as I’m concerned. That said, I’m excited to see what he does next. I recently saw Shame, talk about stripping yourself bare as an actor and I don’t mean physically, although I imagine that took a bit of bravery too. An intense performance.

What’s next?
ridley scott cormac mccarthyI must admit, I’m excited about The Counselor. Written by Cormac McCarthy and directed by Ridley Scott, it’s got a cracking cast. As well as Fassbender in the lead role, it also includes: Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and – my personal favourite – the legend that is John Leguizamo! Check out more info here. Looks promising, it’ll be good to have him back.

Brilliance of Brad Pitt: his top 10 best performances

fight club brad pittFor this post I’d like to discuss the career and my chosen favourite roles of Mr William Bradley Pitt. But where are some of his recent critically acclaimed films you may ask? Well, I can only list films I’ve seen and I have yet to see Tree of Life, Moneyball and Babel, so cannot include them. From what I’ve heard, they’d probably make my list. Alas, not this time.

  1. Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)
    Mesmerising scenes, endlessly quotable dialogue. Became a cult hit largely due to Pitt’s character and performance. Raw, edgy, masculine and totally cool.
  2. Detective David Mills, Se7en (1995)
    Here he convinced as a young, headstrong detective. The conflicting emotions portrayed in the climactic scene were astounding.
  3. Lt. Aldo Raine, Inglourious Basterds (2009)
    Perfectly cast as the leader of the Basterds, with some great comic moments. His Italian scene was a classic.
  4. John Smith, Mr and Mrs Smith (2005)
    Take two of the most attractive and charismatic stars in the world, throw in assassination, action and zinging one liners and what do you get? Pure chemistry.
  5. Louis du point du lac, Interview with the Vampire (1994)
    Beautiful and distant with deep, melancholic eyes, Pitt played Louis the conflicted vampire perfectly. Watch his revenge scene.
  6. Jeffrey Goines, Twelve Monkeys (1995)
    Twitchy, edgy, mischievous and full of mayhem. He was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for his performance in one of Terry Gilliam’s best films.
  7. Jesse James, The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
    This film divided critics. It’s beautifully shot with a strong, understated performance from Pitt. He gives James a melancholic weariness, which is both troubling and beautiful. The assassination scene will stay with you.
  8. Mickey O’Neil, Snatch (2000)
    With an accent that was impossible to understand, Pitt’s take on the hard-fighting pikey gypsy was truly memorable. Switching effortlessly from wisecracking to intense, unwavering aggression.
  9. Floyd, True Romance (1993)
    A year before – what I consider – his breakout role in Interview with the Vampire, he appeared as a stoner providing comic relief in this Tarantino scripted, Tony Scott directed film. Don’t con-den-sen-in me man!
  10. Jerry Welbach, The Mexican (2001)
    Hapless, romantic, but well-meaning. Pitt gives Jerry a warmth and charm so you root for him throughout. An underrated performance.

In terms of characters, a mixed bunch. For me, Pitt is at his best when combining comedy and intensity. With the exception of Se7en, Interview with the Vampire and Jesse James, the rest of my list are – to a degree – comically driven characters. Or at least, that’s how he played them.

I think what defines a lot of his performances is charisma. Magnetism, sex appeal, the ability to hold the screen – whatever you want to call it, all the best have it. Take his scenes in True Romance as an example. Genius.

Who are the top 20 most intense actors of recent times?

charlie bronson

I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.

As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?

In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!

The guys

  1. charlie bronsonDaniel Day Lewis (Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting, Gangs of New York; Daniel Plainview, There will be Blood)
  2. Heath Ledger (The Joker, The Dark Knight)
  3. Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson, Bronson)
  4. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman, American Psycho; Batman, The Batman Trilogy)
  5. Kevin Spacey (John Doe, Seven)
  6. Christopher Walken (Vicenzo Carcotti, True Romance; Frank White, King of New York)
  7. Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men)
  8. Christopher Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
  9. Vincent Cassel (Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine)
  10. Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills, Taken)
  11. Jeremy Renner (Sergeant William James, The Hurt Locker; Jem Coughlin, The Town)
  12. Gary Oldman (Drexel, True Romance)

The gals

  1. helena bonham carter harry potterHelena Bonham Carter (Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland; Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
  3. Marion Cotillard (Mal, Inception)
  4. Angelina Jolie (Lisa Rowe, Girl, Interrupted)
  5. Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds)
  6. Charlize Theron (Aileen Wuornos, Monster)
  7. Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
  8. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.

One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.

Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.

Marion Cotillard artwork